The Silversmith - Paul de Lamerie

The Silversmith - Paul de Lamerie



Paul de Lamerie is widely recognised as one of England’s most important silversmithery figures, and much like several other icons of the trade, his story is as dark as it is extraordinary. He lived between 1688 and 1751 and was compared to the leading craftsman of the Victorian age Benvenuto Cellini by the Victorians. The noted silversmith Paul Storr was making copies of Lamerie’s work by 1810, and it only took him four years after his apprenticeship to be labelled the “King’s Silversmith”.
Lamerie was born on the 9th April 1688. His father, Paul Souchay de la Merie was of French petty nobility, whilst his mother Constance originated from Rouen, although members of her family had settled in Amsterdam. It is not known where exactly they married, but they were given membership of the Walloon Church of Bois-le-Duc on 2nd June 1686.
Lamerie’s family were driven out of France to the Netherlands in the 17th century after being affected by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and Edict brought in in 1598 to allow Catholics and Protestants to work together. His family were Huguenots (French Protestants) and the new Edict allowed them to enjoy civil rights in what then was a predominantly Catholic territory. However, when Louis XIV came to power he removed this Edict, leaving hundreds of talented, highly-skilled Huguenots to flee to other countries such as the USA, Germany and the UK. These Hugeonots included wig makers, hairdressers, jewellers and silversmiths. 

A Military Mindset
Paul de Lamerie’s father was a minor aristocrat and became an army officer under William of Orange upon relocating, with his son thought to have been born in Bois-le-Duc. The family moved to London when Lamerie was aged between 10 and 11 after William of Orange also relocated to the city, ending up in Soho with scores of other Huguenot refugees. Little is known about how Lamerie established his silversmithing skills but records have indicated that he became an apprentice of Pierrie Platel on August 6th, 1703 in a ceremony at Goldsmiths Hall for a period of seven years. Working under Platel for almost two decades, he would then gain control of the workshop when his mentor passed away in 1719, having registered his mark in 1712. Paul and his father were recorded in the Roll of Denizations on 24th June 1703, something that had to happen in order for the boy to be apprenticed. Interestingly, no premium payment is shown on the records pertaining to the apprenticeship. Nonetheless there is evidence of a special payment being made by Paul’s father for £6 from a sum which had been reserved for French Protestant refugees suffering from hardship. As the application for the sum of £6 was made after denization but before indentures were signed, it is clear that Paul’s father had been seeking the funds before this could take place.
Lamerie’s seven year apprenticeship came to an end in 1711. After this he continued to work as a journeyman alongside Playtel whilst saving up funds to start his own workshop. He received his freedom by service at Goldsmiths’ Hall on the 4th February 1713, entering his makers mark at the Assay Office in the Hall the following day, giving his address as "in Windmill Street near the Haymarket". By now, his skills as a silversmith as well as a businessman were becoming evident. He was also becoming known for his somewhat non-compliant attitude towards authority. In the early years of his career, Goldsmiths’ received a number of complaints against him and when he was fined £20 in 1714 for refusing to hallmark his work, by November, he still had not paid this sum, leading to further complaints.
 
Regulations Continually Ignored
Lamerie also found himself in trouble in June 1715 after passing off other people’s work as his own which did not have registered maker’s marks. This situation repeated itself a year later, with David Willaume and David Tanqueray also been accused alongside him. In 1717, he was being referred to as the ‘King’s silversmith’  but was being accused of 'making and selling Great quantities of Large Plate which he doth not bring to Goldsmiths' Hall to be mark't according to Law'. The committee found that he was working on a large number of spoons, but decided not to act, instead waiting to see if he would have them marked when they were finished.
Lamerie did eventually send the spoons off to be hallmarked but it is thought that he only did this after being tipped off. On 18thJune 1717, he was summoned to a meeting at Goldsmiths’ Hall to be being ‘discoursed with by ye Wardens about his admission into the Livery he accepted thereof'. The Wardens apparently had no idea that he had broken the regulations a year before by changing his maker’s mark without telling the Assay Office. He repeated this in 1720.
As Lamerie was working within Soho’s close knit Huguenot community, it was not surprising that the woman he would choose to marry would also be part of this group. In 1716, he married Louisa Juliott of St. Giles in the Fields, a Huguenot, in a church on Glasshouse Street. Lamerie’s business was going extremely well at this point, and he rated for two houses, allowing him to expand his workshop and cater for the large family that he and Louisa were planning. He and his wife produced six children, three of which would die before reaching the age of five. It is thought that this may have hardened the way that he viewed the world around him. He joined the governing body of the Goldsmiths’ company in 1731, and was commissioned by royalty as well as some of Europe’s wealthiest families. Lamerie became estranged from his father of the same name, and did nothing to help his father be given anything more than a pauper’s funeral, despite his huge financial success. A brooch was once taken to Lamerie’s shop for the purpose of valuation before it was returned minus its extremely valuable gems, demonstrating once again the ruthless streak that Lamerie had developed over the years.

A Heartless Streak?
In 1722 there was a controversial incident which led to a court case and arguably demonstrated a more unscrupulous side to Lamerie’s character. A chimney sweep’s boy found a jewel in the street and took it to his shop for valuation. One of his apprentices removed the valuable stones before Lamerie valued at it three half-pence. The boy refused to accept this but was unable to get it back in its original form. This case study is often used when legal issues around ‘trover’ are discussed – personal property being illegally taken or detained.
This story also shows that Lamerie was in charge of a retail business, with jewellery being part of his catalogue. This is cemented by the fact that after he died, an advertisement was placed for the sale of his stock by auction. Insurance records have also showed that Lamerie was in a partnership with the silver engraver Ellis Gamble. The duo took out an insurance policy of £1,000 for goods and merchandise kept on the Golden Angel property at Cranbourn Street. Lamerie also took out insurance on his goods and stock at his Windmill Street premises. Some say this denotes that Gamble was selling his unmarked silver goods on his behalf. The supposed arrangement between Gamble and Lamerie is likely to have ended in 1728 when they both took out adjoining separate policies on their own premises, with Lamerie likely having the confidence to retail independently by then.
 
Clients of Extreme Wealth
The trial of Robert Dingley for duty evasion also shone light on Lamerie’s business practices. Dingley was in the trade of exporting silver wares by Huguenot craftsmen, and apparently used to store items until he had a full cargo load. After becoming suspicious that Dingley was exporting wares that had not been hallmarked and therefore hadn’t had duty paid on them they attempted to seize his cargo in August 1726. Dingley swore on oath that 18,600oz of silver made since the start of June 1720 had been fully assayed and marked. However, there was a further 4,108.05oz that had not been marked, with nearly half of this belonging to Paul de Lamerie. However, before Goldsmiths’ representatives were able to check this, the cargo was on its way overseas. The representatives were in fact in the Vine Tavern in Thames Street, having been lured there by Dingley.
By 1723, Paul de Lamerie was already counting the nobility, the wealthier end of the middle class and the Russian court as his customers. Clients now included figures such as Sir William Trumbull, Lord Foley, the Countess of Berkeley, and Viscount Tyrconnel alongside several Members of Parliament and Sir Robert Walpole – his most notable client. Although Lamerie was being branded as the ‘King’s Silversmith’, there is little to support the idea that he was actually fulfilling royal orders. He did supply silver to the Prince of Wales, but this was in reality commissioned by George Wickes.
Shortly after this, De Lamerie moved from working with Britannia Silver and opted for Sterling Silver, which had been legal since 1720. In 1732, Lamerie entered his new maker’s mark for use on sterling silver at the same time that he adopted the sign of ‘The Golden Ball’. This sign was extremely popular amongst silversmiths. The amount of respect that was being afforded to Lamerie was growing constantly, and when the Standing Committee of the Goldsmith’s Company were planning upon placing a new stove grate in the Hall’s parlour, they wrote to Lamerie asking for his thoughts on the design and to 'to be so kind to the Company as to come & view & estimate the same, and desire him to take such assistance as he shall think proper, the Committee esteeming him one of the best of Judges of that fine Workmanship and ye Company will be very ready to recompense his trouble & charge therein'. 

Disdain For Authority?
Lamerie also began to remove hallmarks from smaller items that he had produced in order to place them into more important pieces, thus avoiding duty. Lamerie produced several innovative pieces that are now commonplace in English life, such as wickerwork-style baskets, fish slices and silver soup tureens, often using his knowledge of French customs that were inevitably bound to transfer over to England, anticipating the arrival of them in his new country.
Aside from his silversmithery, Lamerie is perhaps most infamous for refusing to pay for his father’s funeral at a time when his fortunes were sizeable. Paul de Lamerie senior was therefore given a pauper’s burial on the 26th December 1735 at St Anne’s Church in Westminster. The two men had not been close for some time, yet it still seems alarming that someone so affluent would stand back and watch his father be sent off in such a lacklustre manner. This does not mean that Lamerie was not interested in his family tree however, and cartouche that he manufactured bears the arms of the Souchay family of France – the surname that his father stopped using upon arriving in England. 

A Figure of Great Influence
We can tell that Lamerie was extremely wealthy during this period by the number of large investments that he was making in the mid-1730s, a trend that would continue into the next decade. By 1737, his influence was so great that he was invited onto a ‘Special Committee for the Parliament Business’. This committee was brought about to prevent fraud in the gold and silver manufacturing business. However, one of the proposed clauses was that Company official were given the right to search any business. 1737 was also the year in which Lamerie supplied Lord Hardwicke with an ewer, dodging duty by doing so. Inevitably, Lamerie, not wanting to have his workshop searched, aggressively opposed this clause and due to either his ruthless streak, influence or both, this clause was dropped. He would then simply not turn up to further committee meetings. He did sign the final report however, thus helping to create the Plate Offences Act 1738.
This Act also instructed all goldsmiths to destroy their current makers’ marks and register new ones consisting of their initials, but in a different style of lettering. Lamerie managed to give off the impression that he was changing his shop name to ‘Ye Goldsmith’ when registering in his new mark in 1739, yet he was simply recording the fact that he was part of the Goldsmiths’ Company. He also failed to inform the Assay Office that he had changed his premises to Gerrard Street the year before, only recording his address as part of the new Act, still neglecting to adhere to regulations even as part of the Court. Meanwhile, his move to new premises was said to be not only to cover expansion but to cater for his dying mother, who passed away in 1741.
As a trade member of the special committee, he was asked to make a number of pieces of silver. He went on to make the most notable and acclaimed pieces, and was made Fourth Warden in 1743, Third Warden in 1746 and Second Warden in 1747. It seems that the only obstacle to him becoming Prime Warden was his health. 

A ‘Tedious Illness’
Paul de Lamerie died in 1751 after a ‘tedious illness’. He was buried in St Anne’s Church, Westminster, the same location as his parents, but there is no documentary evidence of a memorial ever taking place. He had left detailed instruction about his stock and remaining work, requesting that Samuel Collins, his former apprentice be responsible for finishing outstanding work. He also requested that his stock be sold off at auction by Abraham Longford.  He left 40 guineas for his bookkeeper Isaac Gyles and the will also made mention of a Frederick Knopfell, who entered his own maker’s mark in April the following year with a Windmill Street address. Many experts believe that Lamerie may have continued to operate a workshop at his old premises with the intention of Knopfell carrying on in his style. He was able to provide for his widow and two unmarried daughters through rent received on properties in Gerrard Street and Haymarket.
James Shruder was also named as a witness in Lamerie’s will, and it is thought that he had been working as an employee of Lamerie. Lamerie had been referred to as Captain and Major in Goldsmith company minutes after his father’s death, perhaps indicative of a new found interest in his father’s profession. He was the only member of the Company to be addressed as his rank as an officer. It is not known why he joined the volunteer regiment, though some say this could be because he had either re-evaulated his opinions of his father, or that it could have been a reaction to the restored Roman Catholic monarchy or the activities of the Jacobites. Sadly, as the Westminster Militia was not granted official status until long after Lamerie’s death, the world knows very little about his activities within the Militia.
Lamerie is seen as a hugely important figure by many, not just because of the level of invention that he offered to the world, but due to his ruthless business streak and his supposed lack of respect for authority too. Despite his infamy and apparent lack of morals, his work is still seen as being amongst the most outstanding in the world of silversmithery. 



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